Back to the traditional festivities and Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, sees everyone in the family come together for a feast. After the main dish – traditionally roast lamb, stew or seafood – an assortment of sweets is enjoyed, including the famous turron – nougat with toasted sweet almonds – and polvorones (Spanish shortbread). Many people will also drink a glass of cava, as it is believed to bring good luck. Midnight Mass is widely observed on this night, with the biggest event held in Valencia’s Cathedral where the choir sings traditional Christmas carols.
The city’s food markets are a popular place to buy special gourmet produce to feast on over the Christmas period. Some of the most delicious options include Jamón Serrano de Bellota, specialty mushrooms such as the black and white truffle, fresh seafood, the finest cuts of lamb and beef and cheeses from across the world.
Valencia is a paradise for families and small children at Christmastime. The Christmas Fair in the Port of Valencia opens on 26 November, while the Colon Market has a dedicated children’s fair from 16 December with a real-life Santa Claus and spellbinding magic shows. The City of Arts and Sciences is also getting into the festive fun, with special workshops, an ice rink, plays, concerts and Christmas Markets all running throughout the seasonal period.
For more fun and games, the funfair by the sea in the Marina Real Juan Carlos I is sure to please, while the huge ice rink in the town hall square offers the opportunity to enjoy some skating in the shadows of the towering Christmas tree and bright lights.
From 26 December, Feria Valencia is hosting the 34th annual Expo Jove. Designed around the themes of magic, games and illusion, the expo will offer food stands, computer games and circus-themed shows. Should you wish to enjoy the fun from the sidelines, this time of year sees the city welcome clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists and other shenanigans with a number of travelling circuses.
On Christmas day itself, Valencia Cathedral is a particularly special destination. The ever-popular Christmas Day Mass includes a performance by the Cathedral choir with a repertoire of traditional songs. Afterwards, families head home to enjoy a festival meal, or to one of the city’s restaurants and hotels for a special Christmas Day menu.
There are more celebrations in store on December 28 with Holy Innocents’ Day – the Spanish equivalent of April Fools’. This festival honours the children slaughtered by King Herod around the time of Jesus’ birth although the modern-day celebrations are very light-hearted, providing the perfect excuse to allow children – and your inner child! – to play pranks, or inocentadas, on family members and friends.
As usual when the Spanish are involved, food plays a major role in the festivities. Rosquillas de vino is a popular snack eaten throughout Spain, particularly during Christmas. The anise-flavour cookies are made with wine and deep-fried or oven baked. Even the New Year’s Eve celebrations are based around food, when it is customary to have a special family dinner at home or in a restaurant where seafood, lamb and beef are involved, with turron providing a sweet treat and cava and wine to wash it all down.
It’s also traditional to eat 12 grapes on the 12 strokes of midnight for good luck in the coming year. This often acts as a prelude to a night of clubbing and traditional cotillion dancing around the city in the restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs. If your feet aren’t too sore the following day, head to the picturesque Turia Gardens at 2pm, for Mascletà Napolitana – a fabulous pyrotechnic event and street festival.
The seasonal celebrations come to an end in truly glorious style, with El Día de los Reyes – Three Kings’ Day – on 6 January to celebrate when the kings brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Children often receive their Christmas presents on this day instead of, or as well as, the 25 December. A huge parade takes place the evening before, when the kings march from Valencia Port to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento flanked by beautifully decorated carriages and life-size camel figurines.
After they have greeted their subjects, the kings take a seat in City Hall and greet all the excited children with a small gift. Later that night, children polish their shoes and leave them out overnight to be filled with presents from the kings. Families also leave wine, milk and snacks out as a gift for the kings and their hungry camels.
Kings’ Day itself is a relaxed, family-based affair where traditional foods are enjoyed along with the Epiphany sponge cake roscon, which comes complete with both a present and a bean baked into it. The person who finds the bean is tasked with buying the cake for next year.